We live in an era when Instagram has the power to make people famous, influential, and – in some cases – pretty rich.
After all, if you have enough followers, not only will the free gifts begin to roll in, people will actually pay you to wear their brands in your perfectly edited snaps.
Eighteen-year-old Australian native Essena O’Neill was one of those “lucky” few, a social media user who had achieved a degree of notoriety on Instagram’s platform. With half a million followers, the pretty blonde was making more off of her Instagram posts than she would doing anything else her at age.
The only problem was that the pressure to be “perfect” and the subsequent validation in the form of ‘likes’ and followers was sucking the life right out of her.
That’s why she made a major change to her Instagram account as of late in an attempt to highlight the problems with social media. Her Instagram was previously filled with perfectly filtered selfies, outfit posts, and #fitspo posts – all pretty typical for someone her age, whether they’re Instagram famous or not.
Then, last week, O’Neill deleted some 200 photos and renamed her Instagram account “Social Media Is Not Real Life.” The “new” account now features brutally honest, edited captions on the shots that reveal how many dozens of tries it took to get the photo just right, how she didn’t eat all day to achieve her bikini body shot, how she yelled at her sister for not taking better pictures, and which posts she was paid for.
Was paid $400 to post a dress. That’s when I had maybe 150k followers, with half a million followers, I know of many online brands (with big budgets) that pay up to $2000 per post. Nothing is wrong with accepting brand deals. I just think it should be known. This photo had no substance, it was not of ethical manufacturing (I was uneducated at the time). SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL is my point. Be aware what people promote, ask yourself, what’s their intention behind the photo?
NOT REAL LIFE – took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals
A photo posted by Social Media Is Not Real Life (@essenaoneill) on May 10, 2014 at 12:59am PDT
A photo posted by Social Media Is Not Real Life (@essenaoneill) on Mar 5, 2014 at 1:30am PST
She also deleted her previous YouTube Channel, her Tumbler (kissing 200,000 followers goodbye in the process), and her Snapchat (losing another 60,000 followers).
“I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status, and my physical appearance, ” O’Neill writes in her last Instagram post on October 27, “[Social media] is contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation, in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgment.”
Pretty insightful for an eighteen-year-old, right?
“How can we see ourselves and our true purpose/talents if we are constantly viewing others?” she says, “Many of us are in so deep we don’t realize [social media’s] delusional powers and the impact it has on our lives.”
O’Neill decided to take it a step further, and launched a new website called Let’s Be Game Changers, where she posts a plea to for the making of a “social media sharing platform not based on validation in views/followers/likes but shared for real value and love.” She also posted a video on YouTube about how exactly people make money on social media, and has created a Vimeo channel where she will upload daily videos highlighting her cause.
“I can’t tell you how free I feel without social media. Never again will I let a number define me. IT SUFFOCATED ME,” she writes, “I know you didn’t come into this world just wanting to fit in and get by. You are reading this now because you are a game changer, you might not know your power yet I am just finding mine, but man…when you do…far out you’ll go crazy. It’ll be brilliant. You’ll be brilliant.”
The hope is that an honest, growing movement ensues that will make us all stop pretending that our lives are as perfect as they look on social media. In the process, we can all stop buying into the perfectly constructed image of others too.
‘If you find yourself looking at “Instagram girls” and wishing your life was there’s… Realise you only see what they want,’ writes O’Neill.